9 Game Review #2: In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion

Under a new coaching regime to start the 2019-20 season, many did not expect the Philadelphia Flyers to finally find their footing until much later in the season. Even after a major short-lived meltdown with 2 consecutive lackluster losses to division rivals, the Flyers have found a way to quiet even the loudest of critics during the past nine games. 

Let’s take a look at games 10-19 of the Flyers schedule (home games are underlined):

  1. 5-3 L vs. New York Islanders
  2. 7-1 L vs. Pittsburgh
  3. 4-3 SOW vs. New Jersey
  4. 4-3 SOL vs. Toronto
  5. 4-1 W vs. Carolina
  6. 3-2 OTW vs. Montreal
  7. 3-2 SOW vs. Toronto
  8. 3-2 SOW vs. Boston
  9. 2-1 SOL vs. Washington

During these two and a half weeks, the Flyers delivered an awesome 5-2-2 record. What’s even more impressive is that 4 of their 5 wins during this time came against playoff contenders. Good teams also find a way to win close games, and the Flyers were able to pick up wins in 5 of the 6 games decided by one goal.

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. The first two embarrassing games against the Islanders and Penguins are large blemishes on their report card, and they can’t be erased from the calendar. Everyone on the ice was downright dreadful, and the starting goaltender was pulled in each game. Additionally, both of these games were played against divisional rivals who were ahead of them in the standings, so these matchups were especially crucial. Instead, the Orange and Black fell flat on their faces after the first nine games of the season showed promise that they were one of the better teams in the league.

There’s still reason to believe that the Flyers are clicking. After the debacles in Long Island and Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia Flyers regrouped and were able to pull out wins against some of the best teams in the league. There were some periods where they looked lost, such as the 3rd period against Boston and the 1st period against the Capitals. Yet as a whole, they were often the better team on the ice. Starting from the Friday night showdown with the Devils, the Flyers posted a 52.64 GoalsFor% (13th) and 51.62 ShotsFor% (10th). They are firing on all cylinders. Additionally, most of the caveats I noted in my previous 9 Game Review have been resolved. The veterans are producing, the defense has stabilized, and the goaltending has been rock solid.  Philadelphia’s hockey club has swiftly adapted to Alain Vigneault’s fast, aggressive play style, and the results are beginning to show.

 Yet, it can’t be ignored that two-thirds of the games ended in overtime or a shootout. If not for Carey Price letting in a soft goal in OT, a Boston goal getting disallowed for goaltender interference, or Philadelphia’s netminders standing on their heads, the Flyers’ record could have looked very differently. Nonetheless, the team stayed true to their system even when the pressure was mounting in these contests and stood toe-to-toe against legitimate playoff contenders, which is a testament to Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff instilling confidence to play the right way. The Flyers teams of recent pasts would have cratered under such conditions.

Some Additional Observations:

Forwards:

  • The TLC line of Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Sean Couturier has continued their hot streak. TK and Lindblom have both scored 8 goals, and are tied with each other for the team lead. All members of the trio have posted a CorsiFor% of at least 57% or higher, putting them firmly in the top tier of play drivers in the league during this time span.
  • Claude Giroux is finding his stride as well, scoring 7 points over the past 9 games. Though it’s not recorded on the score sheet, Captain Clutch made the highlight reels with his shootout slapshot in Toronto. After the Flyers won, Frederik Andersen, the opposing goalie, delivered a salty post-game response to G’s bomb.
  • After a hot start to his tenure with the Flyers, Kevin Hayes has looked ice cold during this stretch. He scored 1 assist in the loss to the Islanders and has not registered a point in the past 8 games. However, Hayes isn’t playing poorly; in fact, he’s taking more shots and generating more chances at a higher rate than he ever has before. At 5-on-5, he has over 14 shot attempts/60 and 0.95 xG/60, so he’s driving play, but just hasn’t found a way to hit the score sheet. For a player making over $7 million dollars a season for the next 7 years, he needs to find a way to restore his scoring touch, and quickly. 
  • The fourth line has not been great thus far. No combination has really been able to stick so far, and as a result, Alain Vigneault has used a staggering 7 different 4th line combination over the past nine games.

Defense:

  • Chuck Fletcher called up prized defense prospect Philippe Myers from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and so far the move appears to be paying off immensely. Since his season debut against the Devils, the Flyers have gone 5-0-2. Largely paired with Travis Sanheim, Myers also scored goals in 3 straight games. He has been far and away the team’s best defenseman during this stretch.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere continues his underwhelming start to the season. He has shown flashes of the dynamic offensive potential we have come to know and love, but never on a consistent basis. The coaching staff has rotated him around with different partners, and as of late has been paired with Justin Braun. However, nothing has fixed Ghost thus far, so it’s fair for fans to become worried if Gostisbehere will ever return to his old form.

Goaltending:

  • After two straight poor performances from both netminders in Long Island and Pittsburgh, the Flyers’ goaltending has stabilized. Over this stretch, Carter Hart has 4 wins and a respectable .912 save percentage. His play over the past 7 games has been especially remarkable, as he delivered an amazing .939 SV%. He’s been a huge reason why the Flyers were able to get wins in these games, and he certainly looks like he has recovered from his middling play earlier in the season.
  • Brian Elliott has also looked good. In four appearances, he’s delivered a .903 SV%, but these numbers are largely brought down by the 7-1 beating against the Penguins. Remove that game, and Elliott’s save percentage skyrockets up to .924.

Special Teams:

  • Over the past nine games, the Flyers’ penalty kill was virtually unstoppable. They managed to kill a whopping 90.9% of powerplays, good for 3rd in the league over the past couple weeks. The PK continues to be a bright spot on this team. On the season, they rank 5th in the league at 86.3%, which is a far cry from their abysmal records over the past few seasons.
  • On the contrary, the powerplay has not  been one of the team’s strong suits as of late. During this time, the Flyers only converted on 14.7% of their man advantages, putting them at 21st in the league. Overall, they are still better than league average, sitting at 13th with a 21.7 success rate.

After 18 games, the Flyers sit pretty at 10-5-3, good for 3rd in the Metropolitan Division and 5th overall in the Eastern Conference (they’re tied with Montreal points-wise, but the Canadiens have a +3 goal differential). It’s hard to be upset with the way the Flyers are playing right now – they’re on fire and they’re sitting comfortably in a playoff spot. This team came into the season with playoff aspirations, and so far, they certainly seem to be trending that way. 

Up next for the Flyers: 5 of their next 9 are against teams in the top half of the league, with matchups against the Islanders, Hurricanes, Flames, Canucks, and Canadiens. But, they do get some breathing room and will take on bottom-feeders Ottawa, Detroit, and Columbus. They’ll also hit an important landmark in this period – teams that are in playoff spots by American Thanksgiving have a very strong chance of making the playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers will need to keep their foot on the gas pedal if they want to be competing for the Stanley Cup come April.

– Katie Bogan

Statistics courtesy of Evolving-Hockey, NaturalStatTrick, and NHL.com

Image credit to NHL.com

 

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